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Senegal - A Hidden Gem?


Pictus Safaris

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Pictus Safaris

Hi all,

 

Following my Gorongosa report, I thought it might be worthwhile pulling together some TRs on some lesser-visited destinations I've been lucky enough to visit over the last few years. Given that safaris have tailed off due to the C-word, now seems as good a time as any to do so. I thought I'd start with Senegal - my very favourite destination of all - although I appreciate this might not belong in the North Africa forum ( @Game Wardenor mods, should a new Senegal subforum be created?).

 

Rather than run this as a standard day-by-day TR (my last visit in 2018 lasted 3.5 weeks, and I'm sure you'd all be thoroughly bored by day 5), I thought I'd simply pull together some general info I've gathered on Senegal as a safari destination, some specifics about logistics, and what wildlife I've encountered here and how. Very much open to suggestions though!

 

With some time on my hands, I'll hopefully be able to add some Benin, South Sudan + Sudan TRs then go from there later this year, but Senegal seems like an excellent place to start.

 

Tom

 

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Soukous
11 hours ago, Pictus Safaris said:

I thought I'd start with Senegal - my very favourite destination of all

 

Ooh goody!

I'm looking forward to this. I've been to many countries in West Africa, with Mali being my standout favourite, but have not yet managed to get anyone else excited enough about a trip to Senegal. 

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Pictus Safaris
3 hours ago, Soukous said:

 

Ooh goody!

I'm looking forward to this. I've been to many countries in West Africa, with Mali being my standout favourite, but have not yet managed to get anyone else excited enough about a trip to Senegal. 

 

Couldn't agree more, Soukous, West Africa is full of fantastic areas. I've yet to visit Mali - the security situation there makes a visit untenable now - but do have the elephants in Douentza/Gourma on my list for a future trip.

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Soukous
15 minutes ago, Pictus Safaris said:

I've yet to visit Mali - the security situation there makes a visit untenable now - but do have the elephants in Douentza/Gourma on my list for a future trip.

 

Yes, the situation is a mess. Every time I think it is getting better something else happens. I've had a trip on the shelf for the past 6 years and am also ready to go as soon as it opens up again.

 

This may be of interest

 

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Pictus Safaris

So why Senegal?

 

It's definitely not renowned as a safari destination, but Senegal has a huge amount to offer committed travellers and safari enthusiasts. A helpful place to start is to explain a little bit about Senegal's geography, and why this lends itself to some impressive biodiversity.

 

Situated in the far west of Africa, Senegal sits on the Sahelian Belt, the area of savanna and woodland cushioned between the Sahara Desert and the the more densely forested interior of the continent. As many members of ST will know, this area offers a rich diversity of biomes and supports an array of wildlife - many of Western and Central Africa's finest reserves sit in the Sahel, including Zakouma, Pendjari and the Faro-Benoue-Boubandjida complex.

 

With its geography as such, Senegal offers an arid landscape in the north, rainforest in the far south-west and savanna in the south-east. When you throw into the mix a long Atlantic coastline, large estuarine environments, and the riverine forest that surrounds the Gambia River, there's not too much that couldn't survive here (although I reckon polar bears might struggle). And, for a long time, this was the case - iconic species, including all of the 'Big Five' minus rhino, persisted here in decent numbers into the latter half of the twentieth century. Alas, as with most of Western Africa, these populations of wildlife have dwindled or disappeared entirely but - with luck and some insider knowledge - many of these species can still be found here.

 

For the sake of simplicity, I'll divide my overview of Senegal into these areas, which I think are the most interesting from a wildlife perspective (indeed, these, by and large, are the areas the trips I run visit, but there will be other areas that may be of interest, particularly for birders):

 

  • The North
  • The Saloum Delta
  • The Casamance
  • Niokolo-Koba National Park

 

The bulk of my visits have focussed on Niokolo-Koba (PNNK), so I will probably go discuss this destination in the most detail, but there are fantastic sightings to be enjoyed in each area, so I'd like to spend at least some time on each over the next few days.

 

I'll also come onto the logistics when it comes to arranging a visit to Senegal, and I'll repeat here what I said on the Gorongosa thread - whilst I am first and foremost an operator offering small-group safaris, I'm conscious that that model does not suit everyone and I'd encourage people to visit these regions, be that with me, another operator or on a self-organised trip. With that in mind, please feel free to message me or post comments here pertinent to solo travel/self-organised travel, and I'll do my best to help! Senegal is a difficult place to arrange a visit, and the government/local authorities make certain aspects of safari travel needlessly difficult, but can be hugely rewarding.

 

Tom

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Soukous
42 minutes ago, Pictus Safaris said:

Senegal is a difficult place to arrange a visit, and the government/local authorities make certain aspects of safari travel needlessly difficult,

 

I can second that. I've tried talking to their representatives at travel shows and they have all been completely clueless about anything but beach holidays. Their main focus seems to be to emulate the success of The Gambia as a holiday destination.

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michael-ibk

I am looking forward to this one! Have no idea about Senegal as a wildlife destination (I know it´s popular with birders), so interested to learn about that.

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ExtraordinaryAlex

Saint Louis is also incredibly cool for anyone visiting Senegal, I absolutely loved it. Definitely much more than beaches. 

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Pictus Safaris
19 hours ago, michael-ibk said:

I am looking forward to this one! Have no idea about Senegal as a wildlife destination (I know it´s popular with birders), so interested to learn about that.

 

Great to have you on board @michael-ibk, I hope it'll be a good one

 

5 hours ago, ExtraordinaryAlex said:

Saint Louis is also incredibly cool for anyone visiting Senegal, I absolutely loved it. Definitely much more than beaches. 

 

Agree @ExtraordinaryAlex- having spent a bit of time on Senegal's beaches, I don't really understand why they're so often the main attraction! I understand there's a growing surfing scene near Dakar, but for those looking for a "fly and flop" I'd look elsewhere. A great destination for a million other reasons though.

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The North

 

Now, full disclosure, I know the south of Senegal far better than the north, but still think this area is worth a visit, especially for birders. For the purposes of this thread I'm defining 'the north' as anywhere north of Dakar and Thies, and this is where I will start.

 

Dakar is, in my opinion, a charming capital city by the standards of this part of the world. It has its rough edges, but there's always something going on, including art exhibitions, excellent nightlife and cultural events. There are large Senegalese diaspora across the globe, obviously in France, but also in the US and this, I think, has turned Dakar into a more globalised city than many others. Whether that's a good thing or not isn't for me to decide, but it does make Dakar more of a destination than, say, Porto-Novo or Cotonou are en route to Pendjari. From a wildlife-watching perspective, there's not a huge amount in the city itself, although if you are desperate to see pale fox, one or two can usually be found rummaging through litter near the old airport. One for the box-tickers out there!

 

Very close to Dakar is Bandia, a fenced reserve where they have introduced a number of species including Giant Eland (taken from a wild population in PNNK) and White Rhino (who thought that was a sensible idea, I don't know). This, in the bluntest possible terms, is a tourist trap. The animals seem healthy enough but they are by no stretch of the imagination wild, or even an approximation thereof. Bandia caters to day-trippers from Dakar, and I would recommend avoiding it if you can.

 

As you'd expect most areas in the north of the country are arid and empty - not surprising given the northern border is shared with Mauritania! There are some large areas set aside for a mixture of wildlife and pastoralism in the north-east of the country but these are now overrun with livestock and any wildlife that is there is exceedingly difficult to see. Ferlo Nord is a good example, and its somewhere that ostrich are fairly easily seen. I am sure that, under the cover of darkness, pale fox could be tracked down here, but the effort needed to find them here compared to elsewhere in the country is just too high.

 

The real star locations in the north are, as some comments have already highlighted, in and around the city of Saint Louis:

 

  • Saint Louis
  • Guembeul
  • Djoudj
  • Langue de Barbarie
  • Lac de Guiers
  • Richard Toll

 

Saint Louis

 

If a seaside town near the Mauritanian border can ever be "cool" then Saint Louis is it. A really friendly place, with plenty of good, local accommodation and great food, I think of Saint Louis as Senegal's response to Swakopmund, but nicer and less resort-y. If time is no object, I'd always recommend a couple of days here, most especially for birders. There's decent birding from the town itself (bear in mind my definition of decent birding may differ from that of many of the expert birders on the forum), but for serious birding most tend to head to Djoudj, about an hour and a half's drive north-east.

 

Guembeul

 

Guembeul is a bit like Bandia in miniature, but it has some redeeming qualities. It is home to introduced captive populations of scimitar-horned oryx, dama gazelle, dorcas gazelle and addax. Obviously these are mega-mammals and some visitors do come here just to tick them off their list but, to be clear, they're not the real thing. Interesting to see, but it pales in comparison to the work done by the Sahara Conservation Fund in Chad, for example. There is good birding here, when I visited there was probably the largest population of spoonbill I have ever seen, but again it's not somewhere to spend time in lieu of visiting Djoudj.

 

Djoudj

 

One of the largest protected areas in West Africa, Djoudj is set back from the coastline on the Senegal River and is a real birding paradise. A network of sandbanks, rivers, lakes and channels, this sanctuary is a hugely important site for migrating waders and there is a truly impressive diversity of species here. The best way to explore is to take a pirogue - navigating the overly friendly warthogs who hang out at the pier - under the captaincy of a local guide. Be aware that the standard of guiding here is a little hit-and-miss, but you'll always get someone with a functional knowledge of the birdlife. If your visit is intended to seek out some more specialised birding, you might be disappointed if you rely solely on the local guiding. Most visitors focus on the spectacular congregations of pelican and spoonbills, so it's worth hiring a pirogue privately if you have a specific focus - it's very inexpensive to do so.

 

From a mammal-watcher's perspective, Djoudj is not all that interesting. Aside from the warthogs who like to chase the occasional tourist, you might squeak out, if exceptionally lucky, a glimpse of a manatee surfacing. Manatee sightings are much more reliable elsewhere in Senegal.

 

Langue de Barbarie

 

This national park is in dire straits, due to erosion and poor management, but is probably still worth a visit in the near future. Situated on a narrow spit of land forming the barrier between the mouth of the Senegal river and the Atlantic Ocean, the birding here is excellent and worth a stop if visiting Guembeul. The only access is by boat (look out for patas monkeys when approaching the hotel from where boats are hired) and the birdlife here has a distinctly marine flavour when compared to Djoudj - funny that, given it's location on the seafront. When the wind gets up, the wooden boats don't offer much protection from the surf, so prepare for a soaking, but it's worth a trip nonetheless.

 

 Lac de Guiers

 

Inland from Saint-Louis is the large Lac de Guiers, widely-known for good birding and being the 'manatee capital of Senegal'. The lake is pressured, but you'll still find good concentrations of ibis, flamingo and spoonbill here. On the north-west side of the lake is the Tocc Tocc reserve, which was initially set aside for the protection of Adanson's mud terrapin - it also has occasional sightings of African manatee, and it is here that most sightings on the lake occur. You would still have to be hugely lucky to lay eyes on one, and there are better locations further south.

 

Richard Toll

 

An industrial town north of Lac de Guiers, Richard Toll is often used as a base for those travelling from or to Saint Louis. Whilst I've never spent any time here looking for wildlife, some swear by the areas outside Richard Toll for pale fox and, given their densities elsewhere in Senegal, I'd suggest they're probably fairly easy to spot here.

 

 

Once I've given an overview of the Saloum, the Casamance and PNNK, I'll try to offer some logistical info that will help you plan a visit to the above mentioned areas.

 

Tom

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Dave Williams

Having many holidays in The Gambia I have been looking at Senegal as an alternative as my favourite spot in TG starts to get more developed and consequently busier. It's easier and less expensive to get to TG from the UK although since Thomas Cook went belly up and Tui moved in prices seem to have shot up. Many holidays to Senegal involve flying to Banjul in TG or Dakar in Senegal. Gambia Experience offer package trips to both. 

Looking forward to your report. Please give as much information on costs, accommodation and food as possible!

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Pictus Safaris

Will do, Dave. Things should get easier soon, as direct flights between London and Dakar are due to start, covid-dependent. Costs, accommodation and food details to follow after a brief overview of each region, but if you've got any specific queries, drop them on here and I'll be sure to address them directly.

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The Saloum Delta

 

Now this is a destination that has something for everyone. An absolute fixture on birding itineraries, the mammal-watching here has been roundly neglected by most.  The birding here is absolutely sensational, partly due to the diversity of habitat within this extensive area of brackish back channels, but also because of the thriving shellfish industry here. Fishing boats here will occasionally meander past with six or seven different species on their bow, which makes photography fairly straightforward! Most of the guides and boats laid on by local hotels have a good knowledge of local birding spots - be warned that many of the best spots are on the main delta, so its not quiet or picturesque at times, depending on the level of traffic on the main river.

 

But the mammals, I think, add an extra layer of intrigue. My opinion is that whale-watching is an under-developed opportunity for wildlife tourism in many areas of the continent. That is, of course, partly down to the relatively high start-up costs and level of expertise required to offer high-quality whale-watching tours, but nevertheless it means some areas remain real hidden gems. The Saloum Delta is probably the best place in Africa to view Atlantic Humpback Dolphins (with only Dakhla Bay in Western Sahara and Flamingo Lodge in Angola for company). They are by no means easy to spot here, and the local guides are unfamiliar with them, but they can be seen. Surveys a few years ago encountered this species on 2% of transects - but most of these transects were away from the "hotspots". The upper reaches of the Diomboss are probably the best place to search if conditions are good, bearing in mind that even the slightest chop can render this species invisible. 

 

Safety considerations aren't a big thing here, so be sure to ask for a lifejacket and pick your guide carefully. If cetaceans are your thing, be sure to keep an eye out for the far more common Bottlenose Dolphins, and Orca that occasionally appear here. Further out, the Senegalese coast offers sightings of more pelagic species including False Killer Whales, but they never venture further in as far as I can tell. Although anything can happen!

 

When back on land, I recommend taking a walk. You'll probably be based in Toubakouta, the "capital" of the delta, and Pale Fox are easily seen just metres from many of the hotels. On longer walks I'd say sightings are essentially guaranteed.

 

A quick final note would be on Fathala Reserve, just south of the delta. Fathala is geared towards visitors to Senegal who can't come to Africa without seeing a lion, and not those on ST. Whilst it is home to some interesting species, including Giant Eland, it is more of a zoo than a wilderness area. I'd recommend avoiding if at all possible - guides in the Saloum will be keen to push you towards the "lion walks" they offer. A polite "no, thank you" should normally suffice.

 

Overall, I think the Saloum is a great stop-off on a longer trip through Senegal, or even a destination in its own right if you happen to be in the Gambia on a "fly and flop" itinerary. Like most areas in Senegal, the delta is deeply threatened by pollution, climate change and poor protection, so a visit is recommended sooner rather than later.

 

But, next, to the "sexier" side of Senegal, the Casamance and PNNK.

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The Casamance

 

Our final stop before the beautiful PNNK, is the region of the Casamance. For those in the know, this is a fascinating area, largely cut off from the rest of Senegal by the Gambia. More densely forested, and generally wetter, than elsewhere in the country, the IUCN reckons that a lot of the forest duiker and primates endemic to West Africa persist here - I've not seen evidence to support this, but it's not impossible.

 

Despite great food and music, the Casamance has historically not been a "must-visit" part of Senegal, partly due to some security issues here. There is a long-running campaign for devolution/independence for Casamance, and this occasionally leads to violence, although this rarely affects tourists. Recent high-profile incidents have included mass shootings and sexual assault, but I must stress these incidents are extremely rare, and shouldn't put off a seasoned traveller.

 

The birding, like many of the spots I have already mentioned, is excellent along the Casamance river - the real star attraction for STers, though, must be the near-guaranteed spot for African Manatee. A freshwater spring at Pointe St Georges near the mouth of the Casamance draws in up to a dozen manatee at a time. The nearby Campement le Lamantin offers cosy, if basic, accommodation nearby and I'd heartily recommend a stay.

 

The downside (if you can call it that) is that this area is quite some distance from the other wildlife highlights of Senegal, but is not too far from Gambia, and there are also domestic flights to Ziguinchor - more on that later in the logistics section. 

 

But tomorrow it's on to PNNK, my very favourite destination in all of Africa, and I hope to do it justice. Any questions on The North, the Saloum Delta or the Casamance, just post below!

 

Tom

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ForWildlife

I passed through Casamance years ago (>15 years), from Bissau up to Dakar. Stayed two nights in Ziguinchor and did a trip with canoe on the Casamance. The most vivid memory I have were the numbers of ospreys, hunderds of them, sometimes so may you could just hear them hit the water every few seconds. Security was a bit dodgy at the time, and we were stopped frequently by military, but never had any problems.

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Game Warden

@Pictus SafarisI have created a new Senegal subforum and therefore your trip report has been moved there.

 

Thanks, Matt

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douglaswise

@Pictus Safaris:

 

I have decided to take you up on your offer to answer Senegal-related questions. I had been waiting until you had dealt with what you described as your favourite Park in Africa - Niokolo-Koba, but your post on this has not yet been forthcoming.

 

As one who has travelled extensively both to fly fish and to mammal (and bird) watch and who is particularly disposed towards wild dogs, I thought we might share at least some common interests.  Knowing little about Senegal myself, I hoped your knowledge might dispel my earlier conclusion  gleaned from researching the country on the internet with a view to determining its suitability as a combined wildlife/angling destination for a non-French speaker.  My initial conclusion was to dismiss it entirely on the following grounds: 

 

a) communication.

b) logistics

c) low wildlife density

d) lack of expert fishing guides/boats etc.

e) lack of tourist infrastructure.

 

I was therefore  very surprised at your comments, particularly what you have so far written about PNNK.  I can see good biodiversity and lack of other tourists as plus points (except insofar as lack of the latter is likely to be a) for good reason and b) suggest that accessibility may limit the opportunities available to enjoy the biodiversity.

 

Anyway, I would be delighted to have my negative pre-conceptions blown away.

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Pictus Safaris

@Game Warden- thanks very much!

 

@douglaswise- my apologies for the delayed follow-up on PNNK, I'm aiming to post tonight, but would be happy to share some info with you based on your queries. 

 

a) I am not a French speaker - despite years of trying to learn - and would agree that communication is harder in Senegal than in other parts of West Africa (e.g. Benin). Most guides speak Wolof and French, with limited English, so I would generally suggest that visitors travel with a French speaker, or get to know your destination quite well before travelling. Before my first visit, I linked up with a couple of English-speaking researchers who had spent time in PNNK, which helped immeasurably, and meant my limited French was at least informed by what I had already learnt in English. A number of guides also use English-speaking drivers - in my experience often from Nigeria - who can act as interpreters. But, on balance, visitors will generally find communication harder here than they are used to if they do not speak French or do not have a guide/interpreter.

 

b) Logistics are unquestionably and irritatingly difficult in Senegal. I, for instance, find it easier to organise tours to the CAR or Eritrea than to Senegal. The upside is that this logistical complexity is not driven by safety concerns as it is elsewhere on the continent, but rather by the lack of tourist infrastructure or an established 'circuit' of destinations, so getting from one place to another is difficult. Some visitors choose to use 'sept-places' - basic, public transport - but I would not recommend this for a pleasant, timely or efficient experience. Again, this is an argument in favour of using one of the operators (incl. a number of birding specialists) who are well-versed in travelling in Senegal, although of course this isn't for everyone.

 

c) If you come to Senegal expecting to see lots of wildlife, you will almost certainly be disappointed. Densities are extremely low compared to southern and eastern Africa. The thing is, what you do see can be truly exceptional. The last remaining lions, leopards and wild dogs in this corner of Africa persist in PNNK, as do Guinea baboon, giant eland, chimpanzee and Gambian mongoose. African manatee and Atlantic humpback dolphin are arguably better seen here than anywhere else. There are remnant populations of bush elephant near Mt Assirik, although these are hardly ever seen, as well as serval, forest elephant and red-flanked duiker. I will go into more detail in my post tonight, but my opinion is that if you are willing to spend a week somewhere with no guarantees of big game, but the possibility of a once-in-a-lifetime sighting, then Senegal is right for you. If you are looking for something a bit different from the established safari destinations, but still want to be relatively assured of certain sightings (e.g. big cats), then I would rather look at somewhere like Pendjari or even Northern Cameroon.

 

d) I'm a lifelong fly-fisherman, having grown up on the salmon rivers of Scotland, but must confess I don't know much about fly-fishing in Senegal. My sense is that most fishing here is saltwater, and even then there's probably not much geared towards tourists. Senegal probably wouldn't be high on my list for a fly-fishing adventure - I'd recommend looking (if you haven't already) at Chinko and Faro, both of which offer world-class fly-fishing for a wide variety of species. The size of some of the Nile Perch coming out of Faro recently has been astonishing.

 

e) Again, don't expect anything akin to southern or eastern Africa when it comes to the standard of accommodation in PNNK. Elsewhere in Senegal, there is always accommodation that sits somewhere between 'budget' and 'mid-range' near most spots visitors will spend time at. For a long time, PNNK has only offered very basic accommodation - a run-down hotel (Simenti) or the basic Campement du Lion, which offers huts and very little else. NiokoLodge has recently opened and offers a much higher standard of accommodation, and they've been getting good sightings too. It's a shame that they've built on one of the most beautiful spots in the park, but needs must I suppose. For anyone arranging travel themselves, I would always suggest NiokoLodge as the accommodation to go for. I'll try to give some more detail later on today.

 

Tom

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ForWildlife

I think there is quite a bit of fishing done in Guinea-Bissa in the Bijagos archipel. Not sure how much of it is fly fishing versus deep sea fishing.

@douglaswise@Pictus Safaris

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Pictus Safaris

Niokolo-Koba

 

If Senegal is a hidden gem, then most of its carats are to be found in Niokolo-Koba. A vast reserve in the south-east of the country, not far from the borders with Mali and Guinea (where it links with the Badiar reserve), this national park is somewhere that, in my opinion, should be on every safari-enthusiast's bucket-list. You won't see lots of game, and you'll probably be pretty uncomfortable for much of your stay (unless staying at the excellent NiokoLodge), but what you will see is the last vestiges of an ecosystem that once dominated the Sahel. Yes, Zakouma and Pendjari are great and offer a comparative wealth of sightings, but they have survived, and more recently thrived, with a great deal of support from international NGOs, foreign investment and natural riches. PNNK is pure, unadulterated, West African savanna. A deeply damaged ecosystem with minimal protection in which, somehow against all odds, game has persisted - it is this that gets my pulse racing more than anything else. It seems almost impossible that less than a thousand miles from the Canary Isles, with their beaches replete with sun-seekers, sits an almost unknown reserve home to lion, leopard, wild dog and bush elephant. For how much longer it will survive is uncertain, but for now it is a frontier destination like no other.

 

I'll run through the main questions I get asked about PNNK and, as always, feel free to ask if there's something I've missed. I'll aim to circle back to the other destinations in Senegal to discuss costs and logistics, and I'll try to throw in a few photos today, as I'm conscious they have been missing thus far.

 

Getting there

 

Senegal as a whole is becoming more accessible, with Air Senegal soon starting direct flights (COVID permitting) from London Stansted and a host of other European cities. Until now, I have tended to fly with Royal Air Maroc and TAP Air Portugal via Casablanca/Lisbon, as this is the most economical option from the UK. The good news for those across the pond is that there are direct, although expensive, flights direct from JFK. If coming from elsewhere, the usual suspects fly into Dakar, including Turkish and Ethiopian.

 

PNNK is a full day's drive from Dakar if you have a private car, and is also a full day's drive from the Casamance if you're planning on doing a circuit of the country. It's out of the way, but not totally inaccessible. Coming from Dakar, you head east through Kaolack to Tambacounda, the last major town you will see for a while. Tamba is an interesting town, complete with an aged railway that once brought tourists here, but there's not much to capture the attention of safari-goers. From here, it's about two hours south on the N7 through Dialacoto to Dar Salam. Dar Salam has very basic accommodation for tourists, with running water and take-what-you-get catering, which many use to stopover after a full day's travelling. If you arrive with enough daylight, there's no reason you shouldn't transfer directly into the park by the nearby gate.

 

From the gate, it's about ninety minutes to the main game-viewing area and accommodation options. Note you must use a local guide for the duration of your stay, and your guide can be collected from Dar Salam or Dialacoto.

 

 

Accommodation

 

There are a few options for accommodation in the park. The most basic is the Campement du Lion, used by many visitors as a stop-off for lunch. Accommodation is extremely basic, with just huts containing foam mattresses on offer. It is very well-located, and I've seen lion, leopard, honey badger, civet and more come along the road just outside camp once everyone else is in bed. There's also an excellent viewpoint over the Gambia River, where red-flanked duiker, hippo, bushbuck, waterbuck etc are easily seen. It's also the best location I've ever found for finfoot, and the birding generally is excellent. Meals are basic, usually very bony fish and rice, and there's a freezer in which soft drinks are kept. The resident green monkeys are a nuisance, with one male swiping mangos from most tourists and doing a lot of damage in the process. There is a real camaraderie around the camp, though, and you meet some incredible people - on my last visit I spent some wonderful evenings with a number of mormons who were on their mission in Senegal, as well as visitors from Cameroon, France and South Africa. All very fascinating. If you are squeezed budget-wise and want to be located in the park, this is a decent bet if you don't mind showering out of a drum. Some guides will advise you to stay in accommodation outside of the park and drive in and out each day - avoid this at all costs. By the time you get in to an area with any game, the temperature will be far too high for game-viewing and you won't see anything, which I suspect is why so many visitors see so little. 

 

Hotel Wassadou has been burnt to the ground when I have previously visited so I can't speak much to its quality. I suspect it is highly similar to the Hotel du Simenti though, which is located in the heart of the main game-viewing area with a good aspect over the Gambia River. I have heard mixed reviews, but not stayed here myself - expect run-down accommodation and middling food, but an excellent base from which to explore the park.

 

7.JPG.9255e8c0893e9033a667cdecf72f0446.JPG

West African crocodile as seen from Hotel du Simenti

 

NiokoLodge is a new addition to the park, and by all accounts a very good one. Far higher spec than anything else on offer, it was built on the 'Grand Mirador', an incredible viewpoint on the main river. Prices are reasonable when compared to elsewhere on the continent, the food is excellent and, all-in-all, the NiokoLodge experience is much better-suited than any other option to the tastes of many safari-goers. 

 

The only other accommodation option is one that is technically not available - bivouacing. Once permitted across the park, it has been outlawed in recent years, which is a huge shame. In the past, I have camped near Mt Assirik (more on this later) and in Lingue-Kountou, from which anti-ranging patrols can be joined (which again isn't allowed, technically speaking). This is basic stuff - a stretcher bed and a mosquito net under the open sky - and is about as authentic as it gets. If you have a special interest (e.g. wild dogs, chimpanzee, elephant) then bivouacing is the only way you will ever get lucky, so it's worth asking whether it's possible when in-situ. 

 

Logistics

 

When it comes to arranging a visit, you have four primary options.

 

  • Go solo - I would strongly discourage this. The park authorities are a nightmare to deal with, and even getting a sept-places to PNNK can be a challenge. I was once refused entry to the park because I was there specifically to look for wild dog and was told I needed a permit for such 'research'. It may work for some, but I would caution against this.
  • Join an organised tour - A good option for many, although there aren't all that many tours that visit PNNK. Those that do tend only to spend a few days here, and that's just not enough time for a reasonable chance of seeing PNNK's more interesting residents.
  • Liaise with NiokoLodge - I have always found the team at NiokoLodge to be responsive and helpful, and they can advise on travel arrangements etc.
  • Reach out to the PNNK guides - the guiding association (GIE Niokolo) has their own email and they're very helpful. They don't speak much English, so expect some Google translating, and don't expect the polished and slick client-friendliness that you get at more established destinations, but the guides will arrange everything from your arrival in Dakar if that's what you want.

 

Costs

 

As always, costs vary depending on the level of comfort you're after. If you go solo, or go through the PNNK guides, I would put a week's stay at between £1,000 and £1,500 excl. international flights. That includes guiding fees, fuel, accommodation etc. I have done a month's stay for around £3,000, and that involved a prolonged stay bivouacing at Lingue-Kountou.

 

Guiding

 

A local guide is a must in PNNK, you won't be allowed in without one, even if you're staying at NiokoLodge. The standard of guiding is lower than in established safari destinations, but most guides know their basics and, crucially, they know the park. Don't expect detailed knowledge of birds or mammals, and most guides won't ever have seen the park's super-rare residents (giant eland, chimpanzee, elephant etc)

 

Game-viewing

 

Almost all game-viewing is conducted in the Simenti area, where a series of 'mares' (small waterholes) have game-viewing platforms. Game drives are not permitted before sunrise or after sunset, which is disappointing. NiokoLodge seems to have secured permission for night drives, and I'm trying to find out more about this currently. NiokoLodge also seem to have acquired game-viewers, whereas the guides tend to use open-bed 4x4s, with seats placed on the bed. It's not comfortable, but at least you have unobstructed views! At any rate it's better than the approach in Pendjari, where guides tie sofas to the tops of their 4x4s with bungee cords.

 

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Your game-viewer at Campement du Lion. Note the chairs on the bed.

 

The park itself

 

Galat_et_al_1997_Niokolo-Badiar_carte_p10-11-c.jpg.5a9adfdaeb11049c95f10e4e9c63ad5f.jpg

 

The above map is dated, but gives a sense of the scale of the park. The Simenti and Grand Mirador areas are most commonly visited, and are dotted with waterholes and oxbow lakes. The south-west is hardly ever visited and there's very little information as to what persists here. The south-east is far more arid, being completed removed from the Gambia and Niokolo rivers. The centrepiece here is Mt Assirik, and its surrounding plains covered in boulders - seldom visited due to its lack of proximity to Simenti, but worth the trip.

 

You'll note the park is bisected by the N7, a major road. Unfortunately, this road is the park's downfall in more ways than one, posing a threat to wildlife, but also allowing unfettered access for poaching and both legal and illegal mining. The N7 has rendered much of the surrounding area devoid of wildlife, and visitors should only use it to access Mt Assirik during your stay.

 

Wildlife

 

Well, this is what we're all really interested in, isn't it? The wildlife in PNNK cannot reach the densities of many more established destinations, but there's plenty to see if you are persistent and not easily discouraged. 

 

In the core game-viewing area, it's easy to spot roan, red-flanked duiker, bushbuck, waterbuck, Buffon's kob, warthog, Guinea baboon, green monkey and abundant birdlife at each waterhole - finfoot, pelican, red-throated bee-eaters, numerous species of kingfishers, gonoleks and rollers are all practically guaranteed. Hippo and crocodile can be found in the Gambia river. At night, around camp, you will likely see honey badger, civet and white-tailed mongoose here. 

 

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Buffon's kob at a waterhole in the core game-viewing area

 

With persistence and a slice of luck, this is also one of the best areas for lion and leopard sightings. Lion are seen approximately every two weeks - leopard sightings are less common, and usually fleeting, but I've seen them on every visit. Buffalo are relatively easy to see here, and they're stunning here, with big fringed ears and russet hides. The quieter areas here are arguably the best spot in Africa for Gambian mongoose.

 

The area around the Grand Mirador is stunning, although wildlife densities are lower than in Simenti. Lion sightings are increasingly common, buffalo are easily seen and I've seen leopard where the lodge reception is now. Prior to the construction of the lodge, this area was known for wild dog sightings although they have not been seen since the lodge was built. One of the most impressive sightings easily had from lodge are the troops of Guinea baboon, sometimes 250 strong, as they play and feed on the riverbanks below. Also, keep an eye out for red colobus, sometimes seen here.

 

Mt Assirik represents an entirely different habitat to the rest of the park, and this is reflected in the wildlife. Bush elephant and forest elephant persist here in tiny numbers (no more than three), and I have only ever seen tracks. Large herds of buffalo gather here, as do giant eland. Recent sightings have been encouraging, with particularly large gatherings of giant eland observed, which must be an incredible sight. The forests at the base of Mt Assirik support ground-dwelling chimpanzees, although sightings are exceedingly rare. Look out for common duiker, serval and side-striped jackal, which are easily seen here.

 

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Roan en route to Mt Assirik

 

Lastly, the Lingue-Kountou ranger post is not an area visited often, and I have used it as a base from which to join rangers' patrols. This is the only semi-reliable way to see certain species, including spotted hyena and wild dog, which seem to use this area to rear young. It's also a good area for lion and leopard, be sure to keep an eye out for tracks.

 

When to visit

 

Be warned, visit in April/May at your own peril - it gets hot. It was 48 degrees during one visit and that wasn't a great deal of fun. It's best to visit in November/December, when temperatures are cooler, and when lions and dogs use a small number of waterholes before they dry up.

 

 

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Red-flanked duiker

 

 

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Patas monkey with young

 

 

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Green monkey at Campement du Lion

 

 

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Abyssinian ground hornbill

 

 

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Savanna buffalo near the Grand Mirador

 

 

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An obliging hoopoe

 

 

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Blue-bellied roller near Dar Salam

 

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Soukous

Very informative, thank you

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douglaswise

@ForWildlife:

 

Thanks for your post.  I have investigated your Guinea Bissau suggestion and it seems that you are absolutely correct about Bijagos fishing.  Seems there's a suitable establishment on Kere Island which offers ecotourism plus quite high quality fishing from either boats or from the shore for a wide range of species by as variety of techniques, including  light tackle fly fishing.  Also, one can expect to see salt-water adapted hippos, several turtle species and good bird life.  Prices don't seem extortionate.  I also noted that Cantanhez NP in the south of the country may offer good opportunities to see chimpanzees, various antelope species, buffalo, possible elephant plus manatees and humpback dolphin, but information on the net is fairly sparse. 

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douglaswise

@Pictus Safaris

 

Your description of NNPK, to me, fails to enthuse me with the same feelings that it obviously induces in you.  Not a problem-we're all different.  Anyway, you set me on a course of internet research and I checked back on what I had previously read about Loango NP in Gabon.  Tourette Fishing have established a lodge on the beach there which is primarily focussed on saltwater fishing - both lure and fly fishing for a large species range of exceptionally sized fish.  I would be too old to cope so had previously dismissed it.  However, they do make great play of the availability of nature walks to see gorillas, chimps, various monkeys, various duiker, red river hogs, elephants and buffalo with the latter often encountered on the beach while fishing.  There are also apparently surfing hippos, crocs and a very good range of sea mammals.  In other words, much the same range, but possibly more easily observable, than in NNPK with an equivalent degree of remoteness.  The Tourette's package cost was very much less than, say, dedicated wildlife trips (eg Steppe's Travel) so might be considered for non angling tourists focussed on wildlife were there to be any spaces in the small camp that were not booked by anglers.  I found this interesting, given that requirements for boats and specialist fishing guides  generally make angling holidays more expensive than wildlife safaris.

 

My wife and I have fished in Chile, Argentina, Venezuela, Panama, Belize, Mexico, Florida, Maine, Alaska, Mozambique, S. Africa, Zambia, Seychelles, Kiribati, Iceland, Slovenia, Spain and Mongolia.  We have also dabbled while on safari in India, Kenya and Ethiopia. Although most trips have proved a triumph of hope over experience from the fish catch viewpoint (maybe reflecting personal ineptitude), very few have let us down in terms of exposure to beautiful, wild and remote places.  I was wondering ,therefore, whether you might consider adding Gabon to the list of remoter tours you offer.

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Pictus Safaris

@douglaswise

 

As you say, to each their own. I'm sure many people would not derive the same visceral enjoyment of PNNK as I do - I suspect a visit to the park is best suited to those who dedicate their travels in search of those species (or sub-species, populations thereof etc) of which sightings are likely to eventually be impossible in our lifetimes. There is little doubt in my mind that PNNK will lose its dogs, elephants and perhaps even lions before I've made my last trip to Africa, which is a terrible shame. The time to visit, if one is so inclined, is certainly sooner rather than later.

 

Your question regarding Gabon takes us dangerously close to more detail than I should go into concerning Pictus Safaris outside of the operator's forum. I'd be very happy to pick up your question by direct message though. What I will say is that any safari to Gabon, which is an extraordinary destination, would be incomplete without taking in Loango, Lope and (perhaps) Ivindo. As such, operating costs are extremely high, and the market is very crowded nowadays, so there's little new or exciting that we can offer. Happy to discuss further, as I say.

 

Tom

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  • 2 months later...
Soukous

Amid the Covid pandemic, Senegal women find renewed hope in fishing

 

More than a thousand women in Bargny, and many more in the other villages dotting Senegal’s sandy coast, process fish – performing a crucial role in one of the country’s largest exports

 

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2021/may/21/amid-the-covid-pandemic-senegal-women-find-renewed-hope-in-fishing

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